Avery Odelle Craven (August 12, 1885 near Ackworth, Iowa – January 21, 1980, Chesterton, Indiana) was a historian who specialized in the study of the nineteenth-century United States and the American Civil War.
Craven's parents were Quakers who left North Carolina because of slavery and racism. Craven graduated from Simpson College in 1908. He earned an M.A. from Harvard in 1914, where he was influenced by Frederick Jackson Turner. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1923, Studying with Marcus Jernegan as well as William E Dodd. He taught at Michigan State University and the University of Illinois; in 1927, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, where he spent the rest of his career. His works included The Coming of the Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 1942) and The Growth of Southern Nationalism, 1848-1861 (LSU Press 1953).
The Organization of American Historians gives an annual award named after Professor Craven, "for the most original book on the coming of the Civil War, the Civil War years, or the Era of Reconstruction, with the exception of works of purely military history. The exception recognizes and reflects the Quaker convictions of Craven, President of the Organization of American Historians 1963-1964."
Craven's personal archives are part of the library collection at Simpson College.
Craven was a leader of the "revisionist" historians in the 1930s who said the Civil War was caused by a failure of democracy. He rejected the "progressive" school of Charles A. Beard, who argued the war was an inevitable conflict between the agrarian South and the industrial North. Craven increasingly took a pro-Southern and even pro-slavery position on the causes of the Civil War. His explanation of the war was basically psychological, arguing according to John David Smith that, "Fear, suspicion, passion, propaganda, distortion" caused the war. Craven especially emphasized exaggerated abolitionist attacks on slavery. The war was avoidable, he argued, but selfish politicians escalated the psychological fears to their own advantage.
Works by Craven
- Craven, Avery. Soil exhaustion as a factor in the agricultural history of Virginia and Maryland, 1606-1860 (1926, reprinted University of South Carolina Press, 2006)
- Craven, Avery O. "The Agricultural Reformers of the Ante-Bellum South." American Historical Review 33.2 (1928) pp: 302-314. in JSTOR
- Craven, Avery O. "Poor whites and Negroes in the antebellum South." Journal of Negro History (1930) pp: 14-25. in JSTOR
- Craven, Avery. Edmund Ruffin, Southerner: A Study in C session (1932).
- Craven, Avery. "Coming of the War Between the States An Interpretation." Journal of Southern History (1936) 2#3 pp: 303-322. in JSTOR
- Craven, Avery. "Frederick Jackson Turner." kn The Marcus W. Jernegan Essays in American Historiography (1937) pp: 252-270.
- Craven, Avery. "The 'Turner Theories' and the South." Journal of Southern History (1939) 5#3 pp: 291-314. in JSTOR
- Craven, Avery. "The 1840's and the Democratic Process." Journal of Southern History (1950) 16#2 pp: 161-176. in JSTOR
- Craven, Avery. The growth of Southern nationalism, 1848-1861 (LSU Press, 1953)
- Craven, Avery. The coming of the Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 1957)
- Craven, Avery. An historian and the Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 1964)
- John David Smith, "Avery Craven" in Clyde A. Wilson, ed., Dictionary of Literary Biography: volume 17: 20th-Century American Historians (1983) pp 126-131
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